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Canadian, U.S. Undersea Line Bilateral Approval Sets Precedent

There has never been a private-sector international electric transmission line project to win bilateral approvals from both countries involved, so Vancouver, BC-based Sea Breeze Power Corp.'s senior executives last Thursday were touting their long-standing project as history-making. With a first-ever U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)-granted presidential permit, the undersea, high-voltage direct-current (HVDC) transmission line now has approvals from both the U.S. and Canadian authorities.

A spokesperson at DOE pointed out that electricity trade between the United States and its North American neighbors -- Canada and Mexico -- is "rising, bringing economic and reliability benefits to the United States and its trading partners." DOE's Office of Electricity Delivery & Energy Reliability supports economic and reliability analyses to allow the three countries to "more full realize the potential of cooperation in electricity trade."

Sea Breeze CEO Paul Manson on Thursday called the issuing of the presidential permit a "tremendous accomplishment," one that moves Sea Breeze and its partners closer to building an "extremely reliable" high-voltage, direct-current (HVDC) cable from Vancouver Island under the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Port Angeles, WA.

Matt Morrison, head of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region, hailed the approval. "The project provides a low-impact option to strengthening the transmission systems on both Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula and is an example of the cooperation that exists across jurisdictions in the Pacific Northwest," he said.

An attractive aspect of the project, Morrison said, is its ability to allow more new renewable-based electricity supplies to be shipped from British Columbia into the western United States. "The approval shows that innovative project ideas using state-of-the-art technology are being accepted by major regulators on both sides of the border," he said.

Local permitting and technical studies on both sides of the border still need to be completed. Sea Breeze is working with the federal Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) in the U.S. since it is the region's dominant wholesale power marketer/transporter. Similarly, in Canada, the transmission developer is working with British Columbia Transmission Corp. (BCTC).

Sea Breeze officials in Vancouver told NGI Wednesday that the DOE action completed the U.S. permitting needed for the project. "This mirrors the National Energy Board [NEB] approval we got in Canada in September 2006," a Sea Breeze spokesperson said.

Originally targeted for completion in 2008, Sea Breeze now is focused on a 2010 start for the project's commercial operations. Construction will take up to 18 months, according to the Sea Breeze spokesperson, who noted that past estimates on the project's costs were $200-250 million.

DOE signaled last Tuesday that it had completed its environmental assessment and was issuing a presidential permit for the U.S. portion of Sea Breeze Power's proposed 550 MW undersea transmission cable.

DOE's spokesperson confirmed that the environmental conclusions issued last Tuesday were performed jointly with BPA. DOE has conducted environmental work and other reviews related to the portion of the project falling within the United States. DOE's latest action allows BPA to negotiate interconnection contract terms to the Sea Breeze Olympic Converter, the U.S. unit for the Canadian-based company.

When Sea Breeze's application to construct and operate the Juan de Fuca cable, connecting the Victoria area of BC and Washington State's Olympic Peninsula, was approved by Canada's NEB in 2006 it was the first merchant international power line ever approved by the NEB.

Last year the project was formally acknowledged by the Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC), part of the WECC transmission path rating, required along with engineering and procurement contracts. In May, Sea Breeze commissioned the BCTC to undertake a pair of studies to assess the impacts of a proposed interconnection of the Juan de Fuca cable into the BCTC-managed transmission grid.

The BCTC work is similar to what BPA has done on the U.S. side of the project.

The Vancouver-based backers called this move "an important technical step" in eventually starting construction on the Juan de Fuca cable, which in the past was touted as being scheduled for completion this year.

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